March 18, 2019

35 years of working with elders

Celebrating the impact of Unbound's elder program

Unbound elder
Joyce, 95, is a sponsored elder in Kenya. She weaves and sells baskets to help meet her needs.

Unbound, the only major U.S. sponsorship organization that works with elders, is celebrating a major milestone. It has been 35 years since the start of Unbound's elder program, and more than 65,000 elders have been served.

"Having met several of our sponsored elders, I can personally attest to the sincere appreciation they show for their sponsors and the community they have found within Unbound," said Unbound President/CEO Scott Wasserman. "I have also seen a deep wisdom and love among our elders. Thirty-five years is a great milestone, and I look forward to what the next 35 bring for Unbound and the elders we serve."

When the organization, then known as Christian Foundation for Children (CFC), started in 1981, the focus was on helping children living in poverty. It didn't take long for the founders to recognize that elders in the communities where we worked, who were often isolated and abandoned, could also benefit from sponsorship.

This realization came in early 1984, when two of the founders visited six Latin American countries to assess the progress of the sponsorship program. According to board meeting minutes from the time, the trip contributed to “the sense of growing need to help the aged in many of our project areas.” With encouragement from the board and local project staff, the elder program was born.

Unbound elder
Adan Cruz from Colombia was Unbound's first sponsored elder.

By August 1984, 40 of the 1,174 sponsored people were elders, starting with a man from Colombia named Adan Cruz. Just two years later, in July 1986, the number of sponsored elders had risen to 434.

Today the elder program looks different. Just as with the sponsored children and youth, many of the more than 32,000 sponsored elders participating with Unbound now have the option of using personalized bank accounts to access and use their monthly benefits in ways that work best for them.

"When I have sat in the homes of elders and met groups of elders in Unbound communities, I am consistently impacted by the message, 'We are still here and we still have far to go, don’t count us out,'” said Melissa Velazquez, international program director for Unbound. "Today Unbound elders are benefiting from regular economic support from their sponsors, but also from setting goals, planning local events, and many entering the banking system for the first time and even self-organizing for social and emotional support."

After 35 years, Unbound has gained a lot from its elders. They are a source of wisdom, insight and inspiration. Unbound's elders also serve as a testament to the power of community and the stabilizing effect a monthly contribution can have on someone's life.

"I cannot work hard anymore, and there are no job opportunities for older people," said sponsored elder Teresa from Guatemala, who is sponsored by Douglas and Donna from Texas. "For me it is a great blessing of God to have Unbound and my sponsors. My sponsors haven’t met me, but they are helping me. They are providing my monthly benefits, and it is a real blessing of God."